Williamson being a good electorate MP

May 24th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

However, some of the cases appear to be genuinely on behalf of regular constituents.

Williamson wrote to former commissioner Howard Broad in 2008 on behalf of the mother of a young constituent in his electorate.

While the details of the troubles the boy had got into were redacted from the letter, the mother had reported to Williamson that her son had experienced “a very heavy-handed approach to a not so serious situation,” Williamson wrote.

“A simple warning by the police officer involved in a case such as has been presented to me would appear to have sufficed,” Williamson said.

He would “appreciate” it if Broad would investigate, he added.

A year later in 2009, Williamson again wrote to Broad, on behalf of another constituent who had come to New Zealand hoping to join the police, but was now in a “catch-22″ because of immigration rules.

“[Name deleted] has had a number of years of service … and his CV … shows that he would appear to make an excellent serving police officer,” Williamson said.

He asked Broad to investigate whether anything could be done for him.

An MP can contact Police on some issues. The examples above are Maurice Williamson doing what most electorate MPs would do. The Dong Liu case was different as that was a call on behalf of a defendant in a case under active consideration for prosecution. That was inappropriate, but these other communications are quite routine and expected,

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Disclosing loans

May 11th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Embattled MP Maurice Williamson is facing fresh trouble after it emerged he failed to declare a top-of-the-range $899 smartphone.

The Pakuranga MP claims he did not have to disclose the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone in a register of pecuniary interests, released this week, because it was a long-term loan and not a gift.

Prime Minister John Key and Communications and Technology Minister Amy Adams were also given phones — Key got three — but both declared them on the gifts register.

Williamson told the Herald on Sunday Samsung contacted him through a public relations firm to offer him an “extended trial”.

Williamson said he was known as a fan of technology and companies often wanted to show him their latest products. “It will go back to Samsung and hence, no gift occurred.”

There is still a benefit from the loan. But does it meet the threshold?

The Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests, Sir Maarten Wevers, said it should be on the register if Williamson had more than $500 worth of benefit from the phone over a 12-month period.

“If you were lending someone a house for a year or a car for a year and it has a value of more than $500, I would expect that to be included in your return,” he said. “If you’re in doubt you should declare. That’s the rule of thumb.”

Sir Maarten said he would check with the Office of the Clerk on Monday to see whether there were for any precedents for this sort of thing

Constitutional law expert Andrew Geddis said Williamson was wrong to say it was not a gift. “There’s still a gift involved in that he’s gaining free the use of this device for the period in which it is in his possession,” the Otago University professor said.

I agree with Sir Maarten and Andrew. However the “value” of the loan would seem to be under the $500 threshold.

One could treat the $899 as an interest free loan. At even 10% interest hat is just $90 a year of value.

Or one could take a depreciation type approach and say a mobile phone tends to last for three years, so $900 over three years is $300 a year of value – still uner the threshold.

Having said that, the maxim of “If in doubt, declare” is a wise one.

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Williamson and Liu

May 1st, 2014 at 9:55 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A National Party Minister contacted a top ranking police officer after a wealthy businessman with close ties to him was arrested on domestic violence charges.

The Prime Minister’s office is understood to be considering Maurice Williamson’s future as a Minister, following Herald inquiries into the phone call that he made.

His office is understood to have also questioned Mr Williamson over his involvement with Donghua Liu’s criminal case.

Prime Minister John Key will make a statement later this morning.

I’ll update this story as it develops. I’m at the gym 1045 to 1145, so likely next update around midday.

UPDATE: Maurice Williamson has resigned as a Minister

Prime Minister John Key today announced he has accepted the resignation of Maurice Williamson as a Minister.

“I have been made aware that Mr Williamson contacted Police some time ago regarding their investigation of Mr Donghua Liu,” Mr Key says.

“Mr Williamson has assured me that he did not in any way intend to influence the Police investigation.

“However, Mr Williamson’s decision to discuss the investigation with Police was a significant error of judgement.

“The independence of Police investigations is a fundamental part of our country’s legal framework.

“Mr Williamson’s actions have been very unwise as they have the potential to bring that independence into question.

MPs regularly assist constituents in their dealings with Government agencies, including alleged criminal issues.

However it is unwise to discuss a criminal case directly with the Police if you are an MP, let alone a Minister. The better thing to do is have staff members make inquiries, rather than have a Minister directly contact Police. No matter how innocent, or otherwise, the inquiry – a Minister making a phone call/s will at a minimum be seen as potential pressure.

The Herald reports:

Maurice Williamson told a senior police officer that a wealthy businessman facing domestic assault charges was “investing a lot of money in New Zealand” and urged police to be on “solid ground”, according to internal police emails.

The former National Party Minister, who resigned this morning following Herald revelations that he made the phone call, said that he “in no way was he looking to interfere” with the criminal case against Donghua Liu but just wanted to “make sure somebody had reviewed the matter to ensure we were on solid ground as Mr Liu is investing a lot of money in New Zealand”, according to Inspector Gary Davey.

Referring to the amount of money someone is investing in NZ, is not relevant to a Police investigation and should not be referred to

A sad way for Maurice’s ministerial career to end, with 15 years or so as a Minister.

UPDATE2: The PM is speaking to the media about this. He has referred to Section 4.14 of the Cabinet Manual which states:

Following a long-established principle, Ministers do not involve themselves in deciding whether a person should be prosecuted, or on what charge.

The PM has said that a phone call to the Police on a decision to prosecute crosses a clear line. He also said that as a result of the phone call, the Police did an internal review of the case.

UPDATE3:

National MP Maurice Williamson lobbied a ministerial colleague to give New Zealand citizenship “as fast as possible” to a wealthy businessman – then conducted the ceremony himself the day after citizenship was granted against the recommendation of officials.

The urgent VIP ceremony, believed to have taken place in Mr Williamson’s Parliamentary office, is another close link between the former Minister and millionaire property developer Donghua Liu, who has donated $22,000 to the National Party previously.

I’m sorry, but how could you think that was a good idea after what Shane Jones and Dover Samuels did with Bill Liu. How in God’s name did no warning bells go off. This is like deja vu.

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Herald attacking Maurice before he even decides!

May 3rd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald must be very worried by the thought of Maurice winning, to devote an editorial to trying to scare him off. They say:

The policies and planks of Mayor Len Brown should be subjected to the challenge of a worthy rival in October. Only then will the advancement and assessment of alternative ideas, part of the fabric of a healthy democracy, take place. Unfortunately, such an opponent has not emerged. It is not John Minto, the Mana Party candidate for Manukau East at the last general election, who announced his bid yesterday. Nor is it the National Party’s long-standing Pakuranga MP, Maurice Williamson, who is considering running. In both cases, these are the wrong men wishing to be the mayor for the wrong reason.

I guess we know who the Herald is backing.

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Maurice for Mayor

May 1st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The political right is already hailing the prospect of Maurice Williamson as Mayor of Auckland as a potential “circuit breaker” for local government in the Super City after the National MP yesterday confirmed he was considering running.

MP for Pakuranga since 1987, Mr Williamson yesterday told the Herald he was “getting a lot of approaches from a lot of people wanting me to stand for the mayoralty”.

“At this point I’m doing nothing other than just giving it some consideration. I have made no decisions whatsoever.”

But centre-right councillor Cameron Brewer was enthusiastic about the possibility Mr Williamson would run against current Mayor Len Brown this year, a prospect he said had been talked about for some time before yesterday.

“It would really energise the centre right and could be a game changer and a circuit breaker for local government in Auckland.

“One thing Maurice has got that people look to in mayors is experience and he’s got 26 years’ experience.” …

That experience included stints in several ministerial portfolios pertinent to the mayoralty in Auckland such as building and construction and transport.

“He’s been around, he’s got a huge following in the southern part of the region, he understands the issues, and he would be a clear alternative to Len Brown,” said Mr Brewer.

I think Maurice would be an excellent Mayor. He is a people person and hugely energetic. I think his nick-name used to be Tigger. And 15 years experience as a Minister would serve him rule in over-seeing the billion dollar Auckland Council. His tenures as Building and Transport Ministers would be exceptionally useful for Auckland in confronting those two issues.

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Stealing the limelight!

April 22nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Clips of Mr Williamson’s speech have had 1.5 million views on YouTube, and there were now versions with Spanish and Chinese subtitles. It was tweeted about by celebrities including DeGeneres, Stephen Fry, Perez Hilton and Ronan Keating.

A spokesman for Mr Williamson said they were waiting to hear back from the show’s producers for more details.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr Williamson, the long-standing MP for Pakuranga, made humorous references to “a big gay rainbow” over his electorate and said the Marriage Amendment Bill was a positive step.

He has since been getting accustomed to his newfound status as a poster boy for gay rights, for which he has received praise from the United Kingdom, Australia and America, offers to stand in as Governor in several states as well as appearances on various television shows.

The already married Mr Williamson said the New York Times called him one of the few “openly gay” MPs in New Zealand. “It’s gone a bit far,” he said. “My wife wanted to know whether the New York Times knew something more than I did.”

Green MP Kevin Hague, who helped Labour’s Louisa Wall with the bill, said there were no sour grapes that Mr Williamson was getting all the attention.

“Louisa and I – and this is tongue in cheek – gave pretty good speeches too but at every stage we’ve been upstaged by straight National Party men. There was Paul Hutchison in the first reading, Chris Auchinvole in the second reading and now Maurice Williamson. But there’s no resentment about that. It’s funny, that’s all.”

He said some people might have been surprised by Mr Williamson, but in Mr Hague’s time heading the Aids Foundation in the 1990s he had worked with Mr Williamson as Associate Health Minister. “He has always been progressive on issues like gay rights, including supporting needle and syringe exchange when it was not popular.”

It is ironic about Hutch, Auchie and Maurice being the stand out speakers at each reading. They have the following in common:

  • All heterosexual men
  • All married
  • All have children, nine between them
  • All are National MPs
  • All in their 60s

An unlikely trio to be poster boys for same sex marriage.   :-)

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Should Maurice run for Mayor?

April 19th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale asks whether Maurice Williamson should run for Mayor of Auckland?

As Building and Construction Minister, Maurice would be a very credible candidate standing on policies to make Auckland a more affordable place to live – in contrast to the policies of the left which are to make land as expensive as possible.

And as his speech becomes a global sensation, it is a reminder of what a formidable speaker and debater Maurice is. As an economic and social liberal he would be a very good fit for Auckland.

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Much ado about nothing

February 12th, 2013 at 1:14 pm by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford reports at Stuff:

Maurice Williamson is under pressure to stand down as Building and Construction Minister, because of his role as a director of a company associated with collapsed construction group Mainzeal.

Associated with! Sounds bad. Did Maurice make Mainzeal collapse? No the company is what is known as a supplier!

The National MP for Pakuranga is a director on Holyoake Industries, an air conditioning specialist which had worked on a number of projects with Mainzeal, which collapsed into receivership last week.

Yes. Companies work together on building sites. Plumbers and electricians work together. Architects and builders. Still yet to see what the issue is.

Labour Party deputy leader Grant Robertson said it was inappropriate for Williamson to hold the building portfolio while he was potentially making decisions concerning Mainzeal.

”He [Williamson] is the director of a company which has had a long and deep relationship with Mainzeal,” with projects the two companies had worked together on including the Supreme Court,” Robertson said.

”Our concern is that if he is making decisions about the future of Mainzeal, that may well have an effect on Holyoake industries.”

This is really desperate stuff. The Minister is not making decisions on the future of Mainzeal. The receivership is a matter for directors, shareholders and staff.

Labour and Green MPs have generally never worked in business. This allows them to claim any MP with any business interest is somehow conflicted. In their ideal world I guess no MP would have any business background.

Let us look at this issue. Grant Robertson is saying that it is possible that Maurice Williamson may make a decision on Mainzeal and that this theoretical decision could possibly have an effect on Holyoake and hence the Minister must resign his portfolio.

Are you serious?

In a statement Williamson said he had instructed officials that he would ”not receive papers on and would withdraw from discussions about heating and ventilation” because of his association with Holyoake Industries.

”I will continue to deal with issues related to Mainzeal, where that does not conflict with my declared personal interest.”

As is appropriate. But to claim that he can’t deal with any issue re Mainzeal because he is involved with a company that has done some work with Mainzeal is just ridiculous. It’s like saying if you are involved in a trucking business you can’t deal with any issues around supermarkets because they get their food delivered by truck.

A spokesman for prime minister John Key declined to comment other than to say it was ”not a story”.

Or shouldn’t be.

I would make the general point that I do think it is best for Ministers not to have outside directorships – for a number of reasons. But if you have them, you declare them and recuse yourself on issues affecting them – as Maurice has done. Calling for his resignation on the basis of he may make a decision on Mainzeal that may affect Holyoake is just silly politics.

UPDATE: This has just fizzled even more. PM has confirmed in the House that Holyoake is not a contractor or sub-contractor to Mainzeal. Basically they once worked on a couple of building sites together!

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An MP told a joke – shock horror

September 8th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Building Minister Maurice Williamson cracked jokes about Muslims at an awards ceremony – just days before he accused Kiwis of racism over foreign ownership.

So what. First of all learn the difference between a religion and a race. Secondly cracking a joke about a race does not mean you are a racist.

I hate this desire some people seem to have, to turn MPs into bland robots that never show any personality or sense of humour.

Mr Williamson climbed on stage to present two awards and asked MC Oscar Kightley, the Samoan star of Sione’s Wedding, if his “papers were in order”.

Heh.

He went on to tell jokes making fun of Islam. One asked: “What is the difference between Muslims and Kiwis? Muslims get to commit adultery and get stoned, Kiwis get stoned and commit adultery.”

Some jokes can be hateful, or nasty. This was not one of them.

Mr Williamson also quipped about the weather being “Shi’ite in the morning and Sunni in the afternoon,” a reference to the two main denominations of the religion.

Heh. Personally I regard it as a good thing when one can tell jokes about a religion.

I once told a joke about how in heaven you get a better car, if you have never committed adultery, and the punchline was about Father McDonald rolling along on a skateboard. Does that denigate Catholics – of course not.

Kightley, a member of the comedy group Naked Samoans who write the animated series bro’Town, said he thought the remark directed at him was “a bit fresh”.

“I guess me, as an MC, was a natural target. He said it on stage. It didn’t really offend me. The last person you’d expect it from is the minister.”

Kightley said Mr Williamson’s performance seemed to go down well with the crowd. “As I recall he was very funny and the crowd liked it. I doubt he would have made those jokes in another setting.”

Of course, you choose your setting. In celebrity debates, almost anything goes. If you are an MC at function, you get to push the limit a bit. If you are the graduation speaker at a capping ceremony, then lave most of your jokes at home.

At the time, he didn’t think Mr Williamson had been drinking. “Someone told me later he’d had a few, but I didn’t think he was stumbling or slurring or anything. He was in fine fettle. But he was definitely in a nice and relaxed and jovial mood.”

I wasn’t at that event, but have been at many debates and the like with Maurice, and I can testify he does not need a drop of alcohol to let loose with a barrage of jokes.

Mr Williamson refused to comment last night. “I’m in a meeting about the Christchurch earthquake with a whole lot of people and can’t actually talk to you,” he said.

When approached later by a reporter and asked repeatedly about the remarks he walked away.

As he should. MPs should front up and answer questions on policy, on issues of substance. But why give any credibility to such a nonsense story.

Other guests said they believed Mr Williamson was drinking at the ceremony.

One said he thought the remarks were “not appropriate”.

“To be honest he was trying to be a bit of a lad.

“I couldn’t tell you he offended anyone. It was a load of builders. It was right at the end of the night and there was quite a lot of alcohol.”

So, no one actually claims they were offended. The worst quote they can find from someone is Maurice was a bit of a lad, at a conference of builders.

The problem with stories like this, is they turn MPs into dull automatons, who never say or do anything.

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Laws and Mair both happy!

December 19th, 2009 at 11:05 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The decision to allow the spelling of Wanganui with or without the “h” has been welcomed by both sides in what has, at times, been an acrimonious debate.

Mayor Michael Laws hailed the move by Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson to overturn the Geographic Board’s decision to go with the “h” as an “early Christmas present for the city and district”.

Ken Mair, a Maori activist and one of the driving forces in seeking a change in the spelling of the city’s name, said after conveying the decision to local Maori at a city marae: “We recognise it was a difficult and courageous decision to make, but the correct one.

Maurice will be pretty happy with those headlines, even if Colin Espiner calls him a whimp.

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The Auckland Seats

November 12th, 2008 at 1:34 pm by David Farrar

Starting at the top, the three northern seats of East Coast Bays, North Shore and Northcote were solid blue. Their party votes went up 9%, 4% and 11% respectively.  In East Coast Bays almost three times as many people voted National as Labour. These seats now are counters to the South Auckland seats.

The personal majorities were 12,800, 13,200 and 8,500 respectively. Northcote was held by Labour up until 2005 and Jonathan Coleman this tme incraesed his majority by around 6,000.

Out west we saw the near impossible – National won the party vote in all three West Auckland seats. Tim Groser worked hard on New Lynn to lift the party vote by 10% to 41%, with Labour dropping 12%. Te Atatu went from 32% to 42% and Waitakere from 33% to 42%. Listing the vote 10% in Westieville was great work.

Paula Bennett’s win in Waitakere is all the more remarkable because of the new boundaries. They had her 6,000 votes behind in 2005 and she won by 900. Groser reduced Cunliffe to 3,500 from a paper majority of 12,000 – also one of the biggest swings! Finally Chris Carter dropped to 4,500 from 7,500.

In central Auckland we have Auckland Central. National lost the party vote by 12% in 2005 and won it by 5% this time. This seat has been held by Labour since 1919 (apart from once going further left to the Alliance), making Nikki Kaye’s 1,100 vote victory all the more remarkable.

Mt Roskill also just went to National on the party vote, and Goff’s majority went from 9,400 to 5,500 – still very safe. His leadership predecessor in Mt Albert won the party vote by 6%, and had a slight dent in the electorate majority from 11,400 to 8,700.

Epsom went from 58% to 63% for National on the party vote, with Labour falling to under 20%. Rodney Hide drives his majority from 2,000 to a staggering near 12,000. They liked his dancing. Tamaki also remains solid blue with another 60:20 split on the party vote. Allan Peachey saw his majority go from 10,300 to over 15,000.

Maungakiekie was another big mover. The party vote went from a 13% deficit to 45 lead. And Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga scored an 1,800 majority from an close to 7,000 majority to Labour previously. Sam is one of the most well liked guys in the National Party, and had one of the biggest teams in recent memory on the hustings. He had between 10 and 25 people door knocking both days every weekend.

Out East we have Pakuranga which was no surprise. It is another close to 60:20 seat. Maurice is very popular locally and scored a 13,000 majority.

Botany. This brand new seat got the second highest party vote in Auckland for National – 62%. Pansy Wong also got a 10,000 majority. ACT’s Kenneth Wang was in third place but got a respectable 4,500 votes.

Papakura. The party vote went 52% to 28% for National, and Judith Collins took a 6,800 paper majority and turned it into a 9,700 real one.

Finally we have the three M seats in South Auckland. Mangere, Manurewa and Manukau East. Mangere saw Labour’s party vote go from 73% to 61%. In Manurewa it was from 61% to 50% and Manukau East from 65% to 57%. But turnout was down also and in absolute terms, Labour went from 55,000 votes to 38,000 over the three seats.

Thankfully Labour’s Sio beat Taito Phillip Field by 11,300 to 4,700

Note the above comparisons are all to 2005 results adjusted to new boundaries. Also a more formal analysis will be done when we have final results.

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Some may be surprised

October 22nd, 2008 at 7:55 pm by David Farrar

Was on Larry Williams just before six pm. Larry was defending recent utterances from National MPs, and I was criticising them!

The point I tried to make is it is not just about whether something is true or not. For example it is of course true that new roads built with a PPP will have tolls on them and sure the toll could be $3.

But the issue is whether one even wants to talk hypothetical prices on hypothetical roads. This allows Labour and/or the media to conjure up images of every road into Auckland having a toll on it. And many people do not read beyond the $30 a week toll headline.

TV3 did an item on Lockwood’s comments and talked to some local employers of seasonal labour and they said much the same thing as Lockwood. However my criticism still stands – in an election campaign you have to think five seconds ahead of what you say, and avoid giving needless ammo to your opponents.

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Progress on copyright

September 25th, 2008 at 1:18 pm by David Farrar

I blogged last week on the new copyright law, and how the provision about ISPs having to terminate Internet access for repeat infringers was causing huge problems.

The good news is the Government seems to be listening. IT Brief reports:

The government has bowed to unprecedented ICT industry pressure, announcing a four-month moratorium on Section 92A of its new Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act.

Communications minister David Cunliffe revealed the back-down during the InternetNZ TVNZ7 Internet Debate held on Tuesday night, saying the delay would give the industry and content providers time to come up with an alternative approach to controlling copyright on the internet.

The debate incidentially went really well I thought. Possibly could have been a bit shorter, but we had a good mixture of politics and policy. There was some generally good natured sparring that kept it interesting, but also some useful and interesting policy discussions around broadband, copyright, filtering etc.

From a technical point of view it was pretty seamless as we took questions from journalists, from the studio audience, from the online chat channel and also video questions through Skype. The InternetNZ staff and TVNZ staff and contractors did very well making it happen. Several people said they would like to see more debates with that interactive format.

Damien, Russell and Fran were all good at challenging the MPs, quite aggressively at times.

The funninest part for me was Maurice WIlliamson saying he had no idea why he voted for the new copyright law, as it is such a stupid law. I thought Maurice did very well, but in fact all four MPs did well with strengths in different areas.

You can view the video of the whole thing at debate.net.nz.

Anyway back to copyright. The Dominion Post also reports:

Paul Moreno, a spokesman for Justice Minister Judith Tizard, said a delay to regulations required to put the cut-off clause into force was being considered, and that the delay might be “endless”.

“Judith is of the mind that Internet access is almost a human right now, similar to water and electricity.”

But Ms Tizard then appeared to toughen her stance, stressing that the Government was concerned to protect copyright holders.

And it is important to protect copyright holders. But look at the gap between the possible interpretations:

Ms Tizard would not say whether the intention was that the cut-off threat should apply only to people who had been repeatedly convicted of copyright offences, or to those who had been accused of infringements by bodies such as the Recording Industry Association – indicating it had been left deliberately unclear.

“The intention of this provision is to provide a framework for the ISP industry and rights holders to develop an efficient and effective mechanism that is workable for both parties.”

Telecommunications Carriers Forum chief executive Ralph Chivers said if the former definition was used, that might be one solution.

But Recording Industry Association chief executive Campbell Smith said that would not be acceptable as it would require copyright holders to sue infringers to prove their guilt. “That is just impractical and ridiculous. I don’t think that is what was intended.”

Instead, ISPs should cut off customers who infringed copyright after notifications from rights holders, he said.

Losing your Internet access on the basis of unproven accusations is not a goer for me.

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The TVNZ 7 Internet Debate

September 8th, 2008 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

One of the little projects I have had a bit to do with is helping arrange a partnership between TVNZ7 and InternetNZ for the 2008 Internet Election Debate.

InternetNZ ran an online debate on ICT issues in 2005 between some of the party spokespersons (including Labour and National). It was webcast, and allowed remote participation through an IRC channel, e-mailed questions etc. It worked well, with both the politicians and the audience enjoying the somewhat unconventional format which allowed more time for actual debate and detail.

As ICT issues such as broadband, fibre rollout, wireless, digital copyright have become far more prominent in the last year ro two, we thought there would be enough interest in the debate to look at having it televised also. And TVNZ7 were the natural partner with their focus on news and current affairs. So we were delighted when they showed not just interest but enthusiasm.

We’ve also got a great range of journalists for the debate. Sean Plunkett has agreed to be the overall moderator. Fran O’Sullivan and Russell Brown will fire questions from the media bench and we will also have an online moderator who will filter questions through from the online and viewing audience.

The debate is on Tuesday 23 September starting at 9.10 pm. The first hour is live on TVNZ7. The second hour will be webcast (as will be the first hour) live and also available through TVNZ On Demand.

The four MPs are Labour’s Minister of Communications Hon David Cunliffe, National ICT Spokesperson Hon Maurice Williamson, ACT Leader Rodney Hide and Greens ICT Spokesperson Metiria Turei.

The whole idea of the debate is it will be a two way communication, not just one way. So if you are interested in faster broadband, digital copyright, Internet Safety etc etc tune in on the night. You can also ask questions in advance on Geekzone.

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Tolls for new roads

August 25th, 2008 at 7:44 am by David Farrar

Maurice Williamson on Agenda yesterday confirmed that National would look to speed up construction of new roads with private-public partnerships and tolls.

The party’s transport spokesman, Maurice Williamson, said yesterday that commuters could face bills of up to $50 a week for tolls of $3 to $5 a trip on new motorways or similar “roads of national importance”.

But he believed that most people, if given a choice between tolls or queuing on free roads, would gladly pay.

Also free roads are not free. They are just funded through petrol tax. I think it is vitally important that users of roads pay for them, and tolls are better at doing that, plus will allow for some roads to happen, which would not have happened otherwise.

He believed an obstacle to public acceptance of tolls had been removed by a new law requiring all money raised from fuel taxes to be paid into the national land transport fund.

“I think New Zealanders will now say, ‘Well okay, if it is going to provide a solution to a problem I face and you are not stealing my petrol tax, well then I’ll go for it’.”

Another policy Labour stole from National!

Transport Minister Annette King accused Mr Williamson of not thinking his toll plans through properly.

She said that even if the $365 million Albany-to-Puhoi toll road, to open early next year, had “maximised” use, a $2 toll would still pay only half its cost.

So what? Half is better than none.

But she said the Labour-led Government believed strongly there was a place for PPPs.

But I thought they were evil privatisations in drag?

Mr Williamson listed these possible candidates for tolls:

  • Auckland’s next crossing of the Waitemata Harbour (expected to cost at least $4 billion).
  • Auckland’s motorway tunnels through Waterview on the western ring route ($1.9 billion).
  • A 19km motorway extension to Warkworth or beyond ($1 billion-plus).
  • Completion of the Waikato Expressway on State Highway 1 ($1 billion).
  • Kopu Bridge, on the way to Coromandel Peninsula ($32 million).

Don’t forget Transmission Gully!

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National’s Infrastructure Forum

August 3rd, 2008 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

The Infrastructure Forum has just started. I’m only half taking it in, as was a pretty late night out with the Young Nationals celebrating the All Blacks massive victory.

Got absolutely soaked to the bone getting home – it was thundering down, and taxis were scarce with a 30 minute delay if you phoned for one.

Anyway back to infrastructure. First up was Maurice Williamson on transport and he summed it up himself with a one liner – National will build more roads – lots of them! He gave some staggering figures on the massive increase in costs that some roading projects have incurred due to consent delays. He stressed this wasn’t about even getiing enough roads for future volume, but just getting us enough for our current needs.

Then Gerry Brownlee on energy. Gerry said that if we found Maui field today, it would be worth around $50 billion. Said that concern over carbon emissions doesn’t change the fact that replacements for current fuel sources are not extensively available, so demand will stay high. NZ second only to Canada in our mineral endowment.

Third up was Nick Smith on RMA reform.  Round up of how multiple business organisations, government advisory groups and surveys all rate this as the highest priority. Will be enacted within months not years of the election.

Questions were fairly as expected. A patsy on why broadband is a better infrastructure investment than trains. Some discussion on coal and carbon emissions and whether one can sequester the co2 from coal. Also focus on consenting for roads – the desirability of having one consent application for an entire motorway, rather than breaking it down into lots of small packages – each of which has its own process.

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Fair Go on Wheel Clamping

June 13th, 2008 at 8:49 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil has this clip from Fair Go, highlighting some very bad behaviour in relations to wheel clamping.

It’s a very good example of third termitis. Instead of any empathy or firm commitment to deal with the problem, the Minister. Harry Duynhoven, talks of officials, reviews, studies etc.

And Maurice Williamson makes a very firm commitment as a great contrast.

The challenge for National is not just to win the election, but once in Government try and put off third termitis as long as possible.

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Labour’s tunnel

June 6th, 2008 at 10:56 am by David Farrar

Maurice Williamson is pointing at political infleunce in the decision to approve the $1.89 billion Waterview tunnels in Auckland. He claims it is not possibly to do with current funding, and the Government is not denying this:

“I don’t think the Government could ever fund a $1.9 billion road from just straight land transport funding,” Mr Williamson said. “That would mean the rest of the country would get nothing for nearly three years, so you have go to find an alternative source of funding.”

Finance Minister Michael Cullen has acknowledged it would be difficult to pay for the project from fuel taxes alone, and the Government is waiting for a report from a steering group on the feasibility of establishing a PPP to dig and operate the tunnels.

So why would Transit approved a project it can’t afford to fund,

But Mr Williamson claimed Transit’s decision-making had been “terribly politicised” by the presence of Labour president Mike Williams on its board and by a statement by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2005 in support of tunnels through Waterview, which is in her Mt Albert electorate.

“You’ve got the Prime Minister and the president of the Labour Party both actively involved in getting a design of a road which in my view is politicising it to a shocking extent,” he said.

Okay, well that explains it.

A submission to Transit by the Road Transport Forum, representing freight carriers, claimed that at least $500 million could be saved by staying above ground.

“An analysis of the extra costs of the tunnel option suggests Transit NZ is prepared to spend an extra $1.6 million per house to tunnel under the houses rather than face potential planning delays.”

Hey what is $500 million between friends. Remember there is no waste in Government spending!

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Drinnan on Broadcasting Ministers

May 23rd, 2008 at 11:57 am by David Farrar

John Drinnan in his media column look at the last four Broadcasting Ministers.

First he looks at TVNZ’s game playing:

Television New Zealand is trying to outbid TV3 for rights to Fox Television programming – begging awkward questions about the taxpayers-can-pay logic underpinning the Kiwi television business.

The state broadcaster has been crying poor. It can’t deliver profits, it has to cut back its news operations and starting this year it needs taxpayer subsidies for the Sunday current affairs programme.

Yet TVNZ – which already holds the rights to Warner Bros and Disney content – is willing to bid tens of millions of dollars to challenge TV3 for shows like Boston Legal, House and The Simpsons.

They would fill TVNZ programming vaults to overflowing and devastate TV3. Then – a delicious irony this – the Government releases TVNZ submissions that accuse Sky Television and its free channel, Prime, of being a domineering, acquisitive menace in the TV world.

Outraegous that TVNZ is trying to steal broadcasting rights off the sports codes who own them.

Then he looks at the Broadcasting Ministers:

Maurice Williamson: “Minister of Market Forces.”

Williamson was an admirer of entrepreneurs Craig Heatley and Terry Jarvis who started the pay-TV firm. Lack of regulation ensured that it was able to grow swiftly and unencumbered. To be fair, Williamson inherited a new system from Labour that was light on regulations Like Telecom, Sky was small, and during his era at least, no threat to anybody.

Marian Hobbs: “Minister of Muddles.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there were lots of potholes during Marian Hobbs era as Broadcasting Minister. It was a period marked by muddled ideas about social and cultural goals mixed with overseeing the Beehive’s paybacks to TVNZ for imagined wrongs.

… In her era Labour killed off TVNZ’s early, flawed aspirations for a digital strategy to challenge Sky – which some believe was a missed opportunity.

Steve Maharey: “Minister of Broadcasting Bureaucracy.”

Broadcasting was a minor portfolio for a busy minister; Maharey privately lamented the state of the portfolio he inherited from Hobbs. …

Maharey’s approach centred on giving TVNZ whatever cash it wanted with as little scrutiny as possible. An anti-Murdoch phobia held sway with the implementation of Freeview, a new platform for digital free-to-air television that would act as a counter to Sky.

Trevor Mallard: “Minister for Holding the Fort.”

Pragmatic Mallard is largely disinterested in his smallest portfolio, which he picked up when Maharey resigned from Parliament. Mallard was stunned by the “money for nothing” terms of state subsidies to TVNZ and approved by Maharey, and instituted changes.

I like the nicknames. So true.

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Blog Comments on National’s Fibre to the Home Plan

April 23rd, 2008 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

It has been interesting to see the various posts and press releases on National’s Fibre proposal. I’ll try and cover most of them:

Phil at Whoar labels it as “what could well be an election winning policy.

Bomber at Tumeke calls it a “Bloody good idea”. Heh shouldn’t that be damn good idea :-)

Mike at Morphyoss says:

“good on you National for releasing a good policy that will massively benefit New Zealand should they win the election. Now it is up to Labour to respond, remember fibre is extremely important to our economy and it is important that labour do something about that or they will lose the election”

David Slack at Public Address is unimpressed with some of the arguments against:

Here’s my response to the snide folk who have been saying: faster downloading for your YouTube and your porn and your pirated movies. I spend thousands on hosting in the USA because no-one here can set me up with a fast enough server and a big enough data allowance. That money could be being spent here. Ask Rod Drury what it could mean for the Software As A Service businesses he’s involved in.

It’s becoming trite to say it, but it’s nonetheless true: internet infrastructure is as important to us as roads, railways and refrigerated ships. Why not have it in abundance, rather than relatively scarce and expensive? Let a thousand e-commerce sites bloom!

Business NZ says

National’s plan to speed up provision of broadband to most premises is welcome, says Business NZ.

Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says a public-private partnership is a logical way to spread the cost of such a huge undertaking.

“The challenge would be in working out just how the partnership would operate to ensure as many investors as possible could contribute, and in finding an appropriate regulatory regime.”

The EPMU is also reasonably supportive:

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says John Key’s policy of rolling out fibre optic cable to 75% of New Zealand homes is a step in the right direction, but is concerned the task may be impossible given the current skills shortage.

“We really want to see this sort of project happen as any investment that will increase productivity in New Zealand is good for our members but until we see details on wages and training around this it’s hard to see how fibre roll-out will be possible.”

In terms of the issues the EPMU raises about skills and capacity, I don’t think it will be a major barrier (but certainly is a factor). When InternetNZ met with David Skilling of the NZ Institute last week to discuss his fibre proposal, one of the issues we raised was whether there was enough capacity to physically get fibre laid out by 2018 (note National is proposing 2014 as a target). Off memory Skilling indicated that they had talked to two separate engineering firms and their advice was there was enough people and and capacity to do it within 10 years, and even within five years if you really pushed it.

Now that is second or third hand so it doesn’t mean there may not be issues, but it does show some work has already been done looking at the capacity issue. One reason it is important is if supply can not meet the demand, prices could go up significantly. This has been an issue in the roading sector.

Jordan Carter is also pleased:

I am pleased that with John Key’s policy proposal, launched yesterday at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Wellington, the debate about New Zealand’s broadband future has shifted from “whether” to do fibre to the home, to “how and how soon” to do it.

Professionally speaking, I am pleased there is now a political commitment from one major party to putting money into this. I am looking forward to assessing the various plans that come forward, and I’m sure that InternetNZ will be looking to persuade all parties to invest in this critical infrastructure.

As a Labour person I am quite sure the Nats’ proposal can be bettered, and that Labour will do so. David Cunliffe’s comments have critiqued what the Nats have proposed – the specifics of it, such as they are – but he has not criticised the goal. That’s good, because it is important for New Zealand to get on with it.

As Jordan says, the ball is in Labour’s court. A win-win will be as many parties as possible commited to the goal.

Final point, I ended up next to Williamson at the launch lunch. His zeal for this is impressive, given his record in government. It’s nice to see a genuine change of view and broad, cross-party acknowledgement of the importance of this kind of technology.

I was at the same table, and it is generous of Jordan to note Maurice’s enthusiastic advocacy of this proposal. Some have suggested he would have problems with it, but far from that – he has helped John Key with a fair bit of the research going into this.

In fact I joked to one person, that Maurice was now so enthusiastic about this type of intervention, it was a bit like how a smoker who gives up smoking becomes the most passionate anti-smoker :-)

Also somewhat amusing was that a fellow guest at our table (not knowing Jordan’s political background I think) stated his view that Labour had done an awful job in this area. Now the last thing one wants is a big political debate over lunch, so Jordan was being very tactful with his response. I actually interjected into the conversation and praised most of what Labour and David Cunliffe has done in this area, and said the work they had done to date built a good base, but this was really about taking a big step up from that base.

Anyway I found it amusing to be defending Labour’s record in this area, in front of National’s IT/Comms spokesperson. I must say though I was disappointed with Cunliffe’s response to the policy, but I suppose he didn’t have much choice unless he could convince Michael Cullen to lend him a quick $1.5 billion :-)

Finally on the luke-warm but positive side we have Russell Brown at Public Address:

National’s new $1.5 billion broadband spending proposal — it’s a bit soon to be calling it a “plan” — is nothing if not ambitious: 75% of homes with fibre connectivity in by 2014 is not a goal that has been envisaged as realistic before.

It is ambitious.

The initial step is a doubled of the Broadband Challenge Fund to $48 million, and there’s a very welcome commitment to “open access” (whether that means dark fibre or open access on the operator’s terms isn’t clear). There’s no indication as to whether National is talking about a monolithic FibreCo-style operator, or multiple providers whose interconnection is subject to regulation.

They are critical details, and that is why it is not planned any actual digging and laying will start until 2010. One has to get the structure and policy right and you really need time to do that. However while those details are being worked out there are things one can do in the very short-term which will make the task easier – such as ensuring duct or fibe is laid every time a current road is dug up. Some firm guidance (or instructions!) to local government can help reduce the cost a lot, as can environmental regulations.

What benefits would this massive investment bring over new DSL technologies via the existing residential copper network? For a start, it would work as advertised: 24Mbit/s DSL is more a theory than a reality for most users (although Telecom’s programme to bring the fibre closer via cabinetisation will help) and it’s extremely asymmetric — much fast down than back up. The problem of long cable runs basically disappears when you install fibre. You’d be doing it eventually anyway: when the existing copper expires, there’s no point in replacing it with more copper.

Absolutely. Fibre to the Home is inevitable. It is just a matter of timing – do we want to wait until 2040 and be last in the OECD, or try and secure some advantages by being early, to counteract our geographical disadvantage.

Russell also points some credit my way for “tireless advocacy”. While obviously I am an advocate, and have been for some time, I don’t think anyone should doubt this came about because of John Key’s personal belief and commitment to this infrastructure investment. I understand he has spent scores of hours in talks and discussions on the issue, and probably knows the ins and outs better than most industry specialists now.

Two others who are influential and helped make it happen were Maurice WIlliamson and Bill English. Jordan Carter has already noted Maurice’s passion for this plan. Bill has had a bit of stick for his comments a year ago which were sceptical of crown investment. The role of the Shadow Minister of Finance is to be sceptical and hard nosed on colleagues spending ambitions. I wouldn’t quite say his or her initial response should always be no, but hey it’s a reasonable negotiating position to start from :-)

I am not Bill’s spokesperson (for which we are both grateful :-) ) but I think people will find he is fully behind the initiative (in fact I understand all of Caucus is quite wildly enthusiastic about it) and his job is to help make it happen as Minister of Finance. If anyone thinks there is some violent behind the scenes struggle about this policy, I think they will be sadly disappointed.

Now of course not everyone has been positive, and for those who want a libertarian critique I refer you to Liberty Scott who labels it as Think Big Mark II and argues in favour of leaving it to the market.

Also against is NZ First (they just whine about Telecom) and Kiwiblogblog which claims it will be wasteful government spending as we will never need home Internet speeds faster than Telecom’s ADSL2+ rollout.

Sounds to me a bit like the infamous “640K ought to be enough for anybody” statement in 1981, attributed to (and denied by) Bill Gates. I am very confident they will be wrong by similar levels of magnitude!

UPDATE: The Standard has also come out against it.

I think it is has been extremely enlightening that basically all the left wing blogs where the authors use their real names have been supportive of the policy, while the left wing blogs where the authors are anonymous are against. I’ll leave it to others to draw conclusions on whether this is a coincidence or not, and what this may indicate about who the authors are.

UPDATE2: I missed a couple of comments. No Right Turn labels the policy as good at first glance. And since I wrote the blog post, Dancer at The Standard has labelled the policy as a good thing.

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Back Benches

April 3rd, 2008 at 7:41 pm by David Farrar

I popped into the Backbencher last night to observe the live filming of the first episode of a new TVNZ 7 show – Back Benches.

It will be on every Wednesday at around 9 pm, and features Wallace Chapman hosting a panel debate between (mainly) backbench MPs. Damien Christie and Mary-Anne Ahern produce it.

The MPs last night were Maurice Williamson, Louisa Wall, Jacqui Dean and Hone Harawira. There were many dozen people watching – a big crowd from TVNZ (whose account my meal almost got charged to), other press gallery members, a few Vic Uni students, some ACT and Green supporters, plus a few MPs and staff from National.

It was a fun occasion, and I’d recommend locals go along when they can. They debated party pill bans, free trade with China and Peter Brown’s comments.  Lots of clapping for various MPs.  Hone was funny, with a fair bit of grand-standing. Louisa Wall was pretty good, with a good command of the issues for a new MP.

The comment I liked most of all was Maurice Williamson who said that his ideal free trade deal would be one page, and would simply say “You can sell anything you like to us, and we can sell anything we like to you”. Sounds good to me.

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A total beatup on One News last night

April 2nd, 2008 at 8:19 am by David Farrar

I don’t think I have seen a bigger beatup than what One News led with last night. It was puerile and almost offensive as they demanded two National MPs bow down and answer questions on their personal views on global warming.

Let us first start with some known political reality. On every single issue that a party decides policy on, there are a range of views within Caucus. Sir Keith Holyoake is on the record as saying that even as PM, he only personally agreed with 80% of what his Government did.  This is the nature of collective decision making and compromise.

Does every National MP support the silly ban on party pills? Absolutely not. But they decided as a caucus to support the Government’s legislation. Does every Labour MP support the ban? Again, absolutely not.

It is absolutely routine and everyday that MPs have private views, which are sceptical or different to a party’s policy. It is impossible to imagine otherwise – MPs are not clones.

It is absolutely no surprise that some National MPs are sceptical of the extent of global warming. But as Williamson and Smith said last night, they are committed to the party’s policy to reduce emissions through an emissions trading scheme.  That is what matters. If National is elected, they will be judged on their record with policy and actual emissions (and let us face it can hardly have a worse emissions record than Labour has had).
Let us look at a comparison for another party. Labour (like National on Kyoto) have recently done a policy change.  For Labour it was on tax cuts.  After years of opposing them and even hiking taxes, they have as a party adopted a policy of lowering personal tax rates.

Now is there anyone dumb enough to think that every single Labour MP genuinely believes that lowering personal tax rates is a good thing (as oppossed to a politically desirable thing). Of course not – there isn’t a chance in hell. Good God they have spent years demonising tax cuts.

But Labour as a Caucus, have decided to implement tax cuts, and hence their MPs are committed to voting for them.

So why has One News not furiously chased down Labour MPs and asked them to all state on camera what their *personal* views are on reducing taxes? Not, whether or not they support what their party’s policy is, but whether they personally think tax cuts are more desirable than increased spending?

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